Mass Effect: Legendary Edition – First Impressions

For the second time in less than a year, I’ve spent a whack of money on an updated version of an older trio of games that I enjoyed playing in years gone by. Super Mario 3D All-Stars, which I bought in September, left me seriously underwhelmed, and despite adoring the Mass Effect series, I didn’t see much in the run-up to the launch of Legendary Edition that I felt justified the upgrade. In that sense, picking up the game was a risk, but as I only own the games on the Xbox 360 and haven’t played them in at least five years, it was a risk worth taking. Best case, I get to play a massively enhanced version of all three games and I’ll have a fantastic time. Worst case, I’ll play a disappointing fake “remake” – but still three great games meaning I’ll likely have a decent time.

So which is it? I’m about two hours into Mass Effect 1, and I’ve taken a very brief look at Mass Effect 2 and Mass Effect 3 as well. This isn’t a full review – it’ll take me weeks to fully play through all three games! But I’ve spent enough time to share my first impressions, especially considering that Mass Effect 1 was the title which supposedly received the most attention from BioWare. And I have to say, it’s a mixed bag. In some areas there have been significant improvements, but in others – especially the visuals – I’m underwhelmed.

It’s time to replay the Mass Effect trilogy!

It’s worth mentioning, before we go any further, just how large the game’s file size is. At well over 100GB (and more than 90GB of data to download via Steam) Mass Effect: Legendary Edition is huge. If you’re on fibre broadband or otherwise have a decent internet connection, that’s probably okay. If your data is capped or your connection is slow, however, it’s worth being aware of that. My download speed is dire, so if it wasn’t for Steam allowing me to pre-load the game I’d have been waiting, well…

a long time, as you can see! Thank goodness for Steam allowing pre-loading of certain titles. Large file sizes like this are increasingly common, but as I hope to upgrade my internet connection in the months ahead, hopefully it won’t be too much of a problem for me in future! But we’re off-topic.

Upon booting up Legendary Edition after waiting for it to download, unlock on Steam, and then install, the game’s launcher left me confused and deeply unimpressed. I wanted to look through all of the options and tweak things like graphics, subtitles, and so on, but there were practically no customisation options. I was ready to write a couple of paragraphs complaining about how threadbare this makes Legendary Edition, but after checking the three games individually, the expected graphics, audio, and gameplay options are all present. The three-game launcher – at least on PC – feels like a bit of a waste; why even have a page for options if you’re meant to configure things in each game individually? The launcher also serves as another hurdle in the way of actually playing a game, taking up a few seconds of loading time each time you want to play. So in that sense, my very first impressions were poor!

If each of the three games have individual options, why have this options menu on the launcher at all?

After getting into the actual game, the first thing to do is use the character creator. Many players seem to be happy with the “default” look of Commander Shepard, and if that’s you then power to you, friend. But I love customisation aspects in games, and I’ve been known to spend ages just getting my character to look exactly the way I want them to! The original Mass Effect’s character creator was limited, but BioWare had promised it had been upgraded for Legendary Edition – and that the character creator was now standardised across all three games. So I had reasonably high hopes.

However, the character creator feels scarcely changed from where it was in Mass Effect 3. There are more options than Mass Effect 1 and 2 had, but not many more, and in terms of things like hairstyles, I’m not seeing many that I didn’t see in Mass Effect 3 almost a decade ago. The character creator is thus a bit of a let-down – it’s adequate, and perfectly usable, but also very dated and nothing special. There was scope for BioWare to have added dozens more hairstyles, facial hair styles, tattoos, and the like, as well as giving more options for tweaking and personalising Shepard’s appearance. This opportunity was missed, and Legendary Edition essentially has the character creator from Mass Effect 3. That isn’t awful – as I said it’s adequate. But it was one of the features I heard BioWare talk up in the run-up to the game’s launch, and considering it’s the first step toward playing Legendary Edition, I don’t think it serves as the game’s best feature nor a great advertisement.

The character creator is okay, but it’s basically the same one Mass Effect 3 had in 2012.

Regardless, decisions abound! There are nine possible combinations of options for Shepard’s background, each of which have a minor effect on the game. There are also six classes to choose from. And then, of course, there’s deciding whether to play as male or female Shepard! At this point I want to mention that there are no options for trans or non-binary characters, and things like makeup are exclusive to a female Commander Shepard. An increasing number of games offer some kind of options in this area, and considering the character creator has received some attention, it’s worth noting that it’s lacking these options.

Some options, like makeup, are still gender-specific in the character creator.

So let’s talk visuals. I mentioned at the beginning this is one aspect of Legendary Edition that I don’t feel is as good as it could be, and I want to briefly explain why. Legendary Edition is not a full remake. In order to put the game together, BioWare built on top of the existing games’ assets, adding what they could where they could, and the limitations of this approach are evident in the final game. In cut-scenes, characters mouths flap wildly, with basically no attempt made to make their lips mimic real speech. This was a limitation in 2007 that we don’t have to the same degree in 2021, and the difference between Legendary Edition and a brand-new game (such as Jedi: Fallen Order which I played through last year) is incredibly obvious in this regard – and many others.

Legendary Edition is thus in a strange place from a visual point of view. Despite the fact that the textures look sharper, draw distance is better, framerates have been improved, and so on, the games don’t feel brand-new. Yet because they’re not that old – having been released from 2007 to 2012 – they don’t feel too out-of-date either. Visually, Legendary Edition is a very polished version of those original games… but under a very thin coat of paint the original games are still there. The upgrade, while nice to look at, is not as impressive as it could be.

Despite some visual improvements, the games don’t look significantly different from their original versions.

In the run-up to Legendary Edition’s launch, I stated on more than one occasion that I couldn’t always tell, from the screenshots and videos BioWare put out for the game’s marketing campaign, which were from the original games and which were from the remasters. As expected, that isn’t quite true when playing the actual game versus looking at screenshots – but I stand by what I’ve said in the past: games from the past couple of console generations, like the Mass Effect trilogy, are difficult to improve from a visual point of view with the technology we currently have. In areas where there could have been improvement – like with better lip syncing – the improvements aren’t there. And in areas where it doesn’t matter so much – like backgrounds and random textures – they’re often difficult to spot.

Playing through Mass Effect 1 feels familiar – almost too familiar for a game billed as a remaster. I don’t want a different experience, but BioWare promised a better experience, and when considering the game’s visuals, that improvement is simply not present to any meaningful degree. That doesn’t make Legendary Edition bad – but if you already own all three games in an easily-accessible format, you don’t gain much from a purely visual standpoint by buying them all over again.

Lip-syncing in conversations could have been improved.

However, when it comes to gameplay I do feel that there’s a noticeable improvement, at least as far as Mass Effect 1 is concerned. Gunplay and movement both feel more fluid and energetic, bringing the game’s action closer to what we got from Mass Effect 2 and Mass Effect 3. Those two titles dropped some of the first game’s roleplaying elements in favour of a more streamlined action-shooter approach, and while Legendary Edition doesn’t fully commit to that with its interpretation of Mass Effect 1, what we get is a decent compromise; a halfway house between the original game and the gameplay from Mass Effect 2 and 3.

There are areas where further improvements or changes could’ve been attempted. For example, weapon overheating is back in Mass Effect 1, having been replaced with “thermal clips” (i.e. ammo) in Mass Effect 2 and 3. This can be annoying, and although BioWare claim to have made changes to the way it works, it’s still an issue that could have been switched out.

Weapons in Mass Effect 1 have been improved, but more could’ve been done.

I haven’t encountered any bugs or glitches in my couple of hours with the game so far, which is good. That should be expected, but given the state Mass Effect: Andromeda launched in a few years ago, and even some of the issues players found with Anthem, it’s no longer a given in this era of “release now, fix later” games! However, as far as I can see there are no major bugs, glitches, or graphical issues – at least on PC – and although that should be expected from a product that costs £55, it’s worth paying a compliment to developers and publishers who manage to put out a game in a playable condition!

I was pleased to see that Legendary Edition has a photo mode, which is a nice addition and something I may well take advantage of! It’s always nice to have this feature in modern games, and there seem to be a decent number of options for players who want to capture the perfect screenshots for their collection!

The addition of a photo mode is neat.

Although not every change is substantial, everything in Legendary Edition that I’ve seen so far works well. And at the end of the day, the Mass Effect trilogy is a great series, well worth playing for anyone who hasn’t and well worth replaying for someone like me, who hasn’t touched it in five or six years. Even though I have the nagging feeling that this remaster could have done more, the games themselves are great and I have no doubt it’ll be fun to replay them.

So that’s where things sit, in my opinion, based on a short amount of time with Legendary Edition. In terms of making a recommendation, I guess what I’d say is this: if you’ve never played the Mass Effect trilogy, go for it. This is certainly the easiest way to get started with all three games, rather than messing about with older hardware and DLC. If you haven’t played the games in a while, like I haven’t, but you want to get stuck in all over again, it might be worth it if you have £55 burning a hole in your pocket. However, there are other new games on the horizon, and with Steam’s summer sale coming up, that £55 could go a long way and pick up half a dozen or more other titles to play while you wait for Legendary Edition to drop in price or go on sale next year. If you’ve replayed the games recently, or own the trilogy plus its DLC on a console that you still have easy access to, there’s still some benefit to Legendary Edition – but it’s definitely nothing major. The original games in their original form are still playable, and considering that this is not a full-blown remake, I could absolutely entertain the idea that someone in that position should save their money. There just isn’t enough in Legendary Edition to justify re-buying, at full price, something you already own in a decent, playable state.

Since my Xbox 360 is packed away in a box somewhere, and I haven’t replayed the trilogy in several years, I felt it worth a shot. I’m not disappointed, because I know I’m going to have a fun time with Commander Shepard and the crew all over again. But having spent some time with Legendary Edition today, I have to say that I’m not ecstatic or thrilled with it either.

Update:

After continuing to play Mass Effect 1, I’ve now encountered a handful of bugs and errors. One or two wouldn’t be worth noting, but there have been enough over the first few hours of the game that I thought I would come back and rescind my claim that there are “no” bugs or glitches in Legendary Edition. In the worst case, an entire cut-scene was obscured in a grey fog, making it impossible to see anything going on. There have also been missing weapons, leaving characters looking like they’re holding nothing, as well as clipping, with characters’ feet and limbs passing through supposedly-solid objects. I’ve also seen enemy NPCs “taking cover” in mid-air.

The cut-scene that didn’t play. This one introduced the main villain of the game, so it’s a big problem if this is recurring for everyone!
Wrex holding an air-gun during a cut-scene.

Those are just a couple of examples that I was able to capture screenshots of. These issues have afflicted the PC version, and given the praise that Legendary Edition has received overall, I daresay it hasn’t been a huge problem for everyone. Regardless, it’s worth being aware that there are some bugs and glitches present in the game.

End of update.

Mass Effect: Legendary Edition is out now for PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X. The Mass Effect series – including Legendary Edition and all other properties mentioned above – is the copyright of BioWare and Electronic Arts. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.